Miss Saravejo…

Today, during practice 5 with the Crazy8, Jelena shared her builders journey with the team of eight. It was the best I’ve heard yet. She is allowing me to publish her story here for your benefit and inspiration. Please read her story and get busy living yours. We are so blessed in this great country of ours. Please appreciate the gift and make the most of it. Thanks again, Jelena, for living yours…

“When I was first asked to write my story, my builders journey, I thought it was a story of 1-the story of me. As I sat and wrote an outline of all the years that comprised my life, I soon realized it was not a story of 1, rather a story of 13,952. Those 13,952 people are not a direct part of my life, but I feel are the reason why I am here today. It is largely because of them that I have taken the actions and spoken the words that have ultimately defined the following 29 years, written as a series of events that stand out most and have (in BTL words) shaped my core beliefs.

I was born in Sarajevo in January 2nd of 1990. It’s the city my family had lived in for decades before my debut and one rooted in old world charm and deep history. We lived in one of the tallest high-rises in the city-my mom, dad, sister, grandmother and I. Old photos tell me that the first year of my life was idyllic-our summers were spent in Croatia, the Yugoslavian countryside and I was surrounded by family with no shortage of love.

Then 1992 happened and a life I could have led was abruptly no longer. I think we all have crossroads in our lives-events that shape drastically how the remainder of existence will happen. Sometimes they are small events-events that we may not even realize happened. Sometimes they are so large in magnitude that their presence is heard around the world. 1992 was a large one-it was the start of the Bosnian Civil War and what ultimately became known by much of the world as one of the biggest humanitarian crisis’s in modern time. It was a war of a lot of things-land, politics, religion, principle. On April 5th, 1992, the city of Sarajevo was officially under siege-no one was allowed to enter or exit the city. Meanwhile, bombs and heavy gunfire were an occurrence each day. Food, water and basic medical care were at extreme shortages. My memories of this time aren’t abundant, but they are vivid enough to remind me how thankful I am for my life here each day.

This is where those 13,952 people come in-that is the casualty count from that war. The ways in which they perished were horrific and many were children. I was not one of them-which is still something I think about almost every day and has shaped my life in every way. We escaped Sarajevo in September of 1993-my mom, sister and I. We had to leave my grandmother behind and my dad had been taken one night to join the army and fight. Because it was dangerous to travel with two young kids, my older sister was given to friends who were also escaping while I stayed with my mom. We left on a crowded bus from a small village in the middle of the night.

Ultimately, we found each other again in Budapest. My mother, sister, and I lived there together until 1996. Those years are a blur-mainly being put in a foreign school, living with several families who had agreed to accept refugees into their homes, and learning how to speak Hungarian.

We hadn’t heard from my dad in 2 years-unsure of whether he was alive or how we would find him again. I remember the day he called and told us to meet him in Sreser, Coratia because he had found a program to take us all to America. I remember officially meeting my Dad for the first time. It’s one of my favorite memories.

I first stepped foot in the USA in 1998 in Laguardia International Airport. Via a small United plane, we were then transported to Akron, Ohio. The International Institute of Akron and a local church had agreed to sponsor us. We lived in a tiny apartment in the inner city. It was difficult, scary, confusing, and amazing. I was in yet another school, looked like no one else, spoke no English, didn’t understand what pizza was and why people ate it for lunch. The school counselor, concerned about my refusal to eat at school, showed up at our apartment one day. His name is Harold Hennes and he is now our longest standing family friend. He found English classes for my parents, told the school I would be eating a packed lunch, and helped us apply for citizenship. Without him, I would not be here today.

Stop. WV: Give yourself freely-your time, money, empathy.

This is where life started to get easier. My parents (the most hardworking and selfless people I know) found work. We bought a home in the suburbs, mastered the English language, settled into normalcy, found my grandmother again and moved her in with us. We were all together again. I made my way through school in Stow, Ohio. We took family vacations, we got a dog, we lived a normal life. These are all things I look back on with great appreciation and happiness. I love normalcy. Not mediocrity, normalcy. I think about this every day as an adult now when I reflect on what makes me happy. For the most part, it’s my home and Michael. Cooking meals, playing games, being with the dogs. The safety of it all-the normalcy of it all.

After high school, I started college at Kent State. I was sure I was going to be a lawyer. I was on my way. Then 2008 happened. It’s still amazing how the actions of a few can ripple into the downfall of the many. My Dad lost his job and got very sick. Unlike many in our neighborhood, we were fortunate enough to make it out of the crisis and still have our home. I was fortunate enough to make it out with a college degree (I’m not sure to this day how my parents managed either of those things-but I am eternally grateful).

The funny thing about life is how you think you know everything, how sure we are of things. In reality, I think we know little and things change so quickly. I packed up my belongings into one car after college and headed down 71 towards Columbus. I was questioning law school and whether it was the right path. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. I moved in with my sister and her husband and began looking for work. Scrolling though LinkedIn one day, I came across a job posting for a flight attendant for a private jet. I remember being slightly shocked that people still had private jets after ’08. Two weeks later I was on that plane on my way to Las Vegas with Jon Bon Jovi on board. We then spent 3 months abroad in Europe. I saw the country, I saw the world, I almost died twice-stories I’m more than happy to regale the group with at another time.

It was following one of these near-death experiences that I decided it was time to come home and go to law school-I had my eyes set on Moritz. I took an “easy job” as a marketing coordinator while I studied for the LSAT and applied to schools. Turns out, sometimes what you want to do isn’t what you need to do. I closed the door on law school permanently and worked in marketing for the next few years, living in Columbus. They were fine years, filled with many learning experiences and relationships. They were mediocre years. When Chett says “sleeping,” I think of these years in my life. I was going through the motions, indifferent to life in many ways.

I went to the dog park one Saturday. It was noon. It was sweltering hot. There was one bench in the park with a guy sitting on it. He was taking up the whole bench and I remember cursing him in my mind. This guy turned out to be Michael, my now boyfriend. We talked for hours about travel and our dogs. Our mutual loves. It’s a day that I’m now so thankful for because I happen to think Michael is the best person ever (he disagrees). Life was good.

Then something happened. It was one of those crossroads in life-not an earth shaking one were the ripple is felt by all, but certainly felt by me. It happened on December 5th, 2017 at 5:45am. I lost my dad. It was one of those moments in life that happens and you almost don’t believe it’s reality. And you go through the motions. And it’s the worst thing ever. My Dad was many things, though most importantly the person whom I was most like, my best friend. We had a small family funeral. I knew everyone there except for one man. He came up to me, said he knew I must be the daughter. He traveled to Stow, Ohio from Serbia after learning about my dad’s death. He said that, during the war, my dad had helped him escape as a prisoner of the war and had given him money to find his family.

Stop. Worldview: Do what you can to help the plight of others, for you don’t know their burden. Give freely.

About 2 weeks later the shock wore off. If it’s one thing I learned about seeing death, it forces you to face the lack of permanence of this thing called life. Suddenly, it wasn’t death I feared anymore. It was what I was doing with my TIME and how much I wanted to be sure it was meaningful. I had what literature calls an enlightenment, what I think Chett calls a “wake up call,” but what I ultimately am pretty sure was a life crisis. I remember the day I walked into my office and quit my well-paid marketing job because it was soul-crushing work. The day I sold my car, apartment, and 80% of my belongings. I moved to a studio apartment in the short north. I hit “pause” on life which is one of the best things I have ever done. I read the works of philosophers, life coaches, and anything I could find that would help me understand the concept of human existence and why I was here and what I was supposed to do.

Worldview: Things do not bring joy. “More” is not always better.

It’s through that self-reflection that I came across what is the purpose of my existence-I am here to give to others, to help improve (in any way I can) someone else’s existence during their time on earth. To help them find peace-and myself to be peaceful.

It’s funny how things happen as they are supposed to. As I was doing this reading, I came across an article in Forbes about this guy building an intentional living community in Columbus. I read about his journey leaving banking and finding meaning in his work. Some months later, I saw a job posting for his company. Some months later, I was in this office.

Now I am here-at Kaufman- because I believe in what we are doing. I think Gravity on a larger scale will make a difference in lives-100% is our health impacted by our surroundings-light, art, meditation, people. However, what we are doing at, say, 600 Goodale, is equally as important. We are building homes. They may be long term homes to some and short term homes to others, but they are homes. They are the space where someone may meet the love of their life, where they may get engaged, or bring a new child back for the first time. If my upbringing has taught me anything, it’s the importance of home. And we are providing good ones. And I find great meaning in helping people find these homes and make their experience great.

So my story began with 13,952. And while by no means does the story end, I will leave it off here with 13,952. They have inspired me to live my life with some meaning beyond just existing. There is a reason I am here and they are not-I think I have finally found it. To help others, to enjoy the simple and wonderful things life has to offer, to really live. And to them, I am eternally grateful.


This beautiful soul is just beginning. So are you, my friend. We all are stories and we all matter. So blessed to live this opus among so many awakening souls. God, help me make the most of this gift. God, help me learn from the perspective of Miss Saravejo and so many others you’ve placed in my path. God, help me.

Live hard. Love harder (Thanks, Teeks)…

1 thought on “Miss Saravejo…

  1. This. Is. Gold.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us Jelena. I am most inspired by your commitment to live life and not take up residence in the victim’s hood. You’ve profoundly reminded me of the power of one’s will when attached to a bigger purpose. Your love of ‘home’, and what it means to you, will without question be one of your greatest gifts you bring to Kaufman and the communities your serve!

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